tagNovels and NovellasThe Sentinel Ch. 10

The Sentinel Ch. 10


He sat on an old, ragged divan shoved against a bare brick wall at the back of the warehouse, smoking a cigar, lost in thought. He seemed to be watching the two girls, working on a guy in what appeared to be a furniture store display 15 feet away. Bright lights created a sea of color in the drab cavernous building; a palate of pastels complete with carpet, walls painted light blue, and a few rock and roll posters hanging over the bed, created the illusion of a teenaged girl's bedroom suite -- a set. It was just another of the many sets Scott put together for the photographer to work with.

He looked out of place in his Rhodes suit; Italian shoes with matching belt; salt and pepper hair, closely cropped; and manicured nails as his hand moved the cigar mechanically as if an afterthought to where his mind really was.

Staring off into the lofty space of the warehouse, his eyes didn't register the plastic-covered furniture - beds, stereos, nightstands, and other trappings used to create the look and feel of different rooms and settings stacked around the warehouse.

The photographer's and video crew's change of position caught his eye and brought him back. The girls were standing beside the guy they'd just sucked off, wiping cum off their faces, and laughing at something. Cameras were being stored in bags after their cassettes were taken out, and memory cards were being pulled from digital still-cameras. Finally, all 'medium' was brought over by a flunky to be put on the coffee table in front of the divan.

"Here it is, kids; come and get it."

Scott pointed at the small glass table at his elbow where snail trails of white powder were laid out with drinking straws that had been cut in half to facilitate inhalation of his actors' reward.

He'd become immune to nudity over the last five years, and the two girls naked on their knees, snorting away their lives, didn't really phase or interest him. Sure, they would offer to go back to his house with him; they would offer to do whatever he wanted as long as he kept the snow falling. It was all just meat to him - money in the bank, reaped from the hard times and poor decisions of others.

The girls were just that - girls. They all signed model release forms and presented proof of age in the form of college ID's or drivers licenses. He was sure more than a few who had been in his productions weren't old enough to drive and should still be shaking their pom-poms at some junior high school football game, but he didn't care. All their papers were on file. His corporation was protected, and he had the best lawyers money could buy.

Standing, Scott motioned to Tommy who gathered the digital video tapes and memory cards up and put them in a briefcase.

"Pay them off and get them out of here before sunup. I don't want to find any cold bodies around when I get back." With that, he handed Tommy a wad of bills and took the briefcase.

"We won't party long, boss; my ol' lady gave me hell for comin' in at 4 in the morning smelling like pussy. We gonna shoot tomorrow night?"

Scott knew Tommy tagged most the girls that came through. He wondered if Tom ever considered the possibility of AIDS but considering the age of the girls and relative lack of experience, maybe Tom figured they were still clean. Well, they won't be for long, he thought.

"No, Tommy, shut it down for the week, and we'll start up after Thanksgiving. I'm going to be out of town, and I'll give you a call Monday after the holiday sometime."

With that, Scott walked through a small, rusty door framed inside a larger freight door and into the chilly night air. With a click of his keychain, his Mercedes blinked its lights and chirped as if saying, 'here I am, waiting patiently'.

Driving through the streets of L.A. wrapped in his cocoon of warmth and luxury, he thought about his life.

No matter what had happened since, he always started with that one day in another warehouse that had changed his life and sent him in a new direction. If he was honest with himself, that direction hadn't been too bad at all. A few hard knocks, here and there, but it had given him much more than his father's blue collar background would have.

His father had grown up and worked around the docks. A plainspoken man with few concerns beyond his next meal and where he'd sleep, his biggest contribution to Scott's life had been getting him his first job, sorting boxes in a small freight operation.

It was a summer job that turned into an after school job in the winter. It afforded Scott freedom from an oppressive home life with a mother who smothered him to compensate for a lack of attention from her husband, and a father who felt grunting was the accepted form of communication in the Ryan household.

Scott remembered when the police had come and taken him away in handcuffs. They driven him to his parent's house and left him in the cruiser as they'd knocked on the door.

His mother had answered the door, wiping her hands nervously on a pink apron as the officers had showed her a piece of paper - a search warrant. One officer stood on the porch, talking to his mother, occasionally glancing over at him in the back of the car, while the other officer walked past and entered the house.

It hadn't taken long to find; he hadn't really hidden it. He had actually thought it would never be detected. He'd been doing it for almost a year, and he always took small packages that he was sure didn't have anything of much value inside. It was more of a sport than serious thievery.

He'd heard Wayne at receiving, talking about it one day on break. "With as many packages as we handle, it's inevitable that we loose one or two a month, but the insurance pays for it." So what did it matter? Scott had appropriated a few nicer things and a lot of junk: training manuals for corporate procedures, framed photos of grandkids being sent to the grandparents, a girl's pair of ice skates. Nothing to write home about, but he still had the gold cigarette lighter that had been one of the nicer surprises.

Besides, how was he to know someone would send something so valuable through a freight delivery company? Who would send a diamond pendent? He'd even planned on taking it back and told that to the judge.

It had only taken six months to ruin Scott's life. Six months out of his last year in high school was enough to mark him as 'a punk', someone to be avoided by his ex-classmates even though he'd finished high school, gotten his diploma, and come out ready to find a job and start his life.

Molly had hurt the most. His high school sweetheart had been warned off by her parents and wouldn't even return his calls. Finding a job had been harder still. That's when the resentment had turned to rage; that's when he'd made a quiet vow to 'get even'.

His father had gotten him an apprentice job with the local union on the docks, but when a crate of wine disappeared the second day he was on the job, all fingers pointed to him including his father's.

Then he'd discovered the sex trade - the strip joints and especially, the 'photo sessions'. He'd learned about setting up dates, taking pictures, doing the dirty work at parties, and going out on the street to buy the drugs that kept it all humming along. Yes, he'd learned early just how much extra cash floated around the sex trade.

By thirty, he had his own 'back room' operation taking 'special order' photos for the girls and their customers. By thirty-one, he had his first Mercedes, and by thirty-five, he was in jail on racketeering charges - not only in jail, but in jail without protection.

He had never given in to the invitations from organized crime, and he'd defied them when the invitations turned to threats. He'd worked hard to build his small business, and he wasn't about to give a percentage of it over to a bunch of greasy-haired thugs for 'protection'. "Protection from what?" he told them. They decided to show him.

Two years later, he was on the streets again. His business had disappeared; his car and house sold to pay the lawyers. Starting from zero, he'd gotten a job at another warehouse - one that didn't look too closely at your credentials and expected you to look the other way when handling a 'special shipment'.

Keeping a low profile, he'd worked hard and lived on the cheap, shacking up with different women, letting them carry the burden of rent while he stashed his money away. Then he'd discovered the internet.

He'd first seen it in its infancy when there were no fancy, full color pages of photos and flashing messages to fill the screen. Then, there were only lists and lists of directories containing documents, and looking for information was like wading through an operating system directory.

It was the days before internet carrier services when you had to know how to dial into a corporate or university portal and from there, move around, hoping you didn't get caught. Back then, the move from 300 baud to 1200 baud had been a monumental breakthrough and had allowed even more content to fill more hard drives in more locations. More specifically, it had allowed internet photos.

He'd learned about hacking someone's 'site' and how to move files around. He'd learned how to download and save when storage space was still limited to 100 megabyte hard drives that clunked and clanked as they struggled under the burden of so much information being stuffed into them.

It hadn't been a far leap for Scott to figure out that he could take pictures of naked women and hide them away in someone else's server. Then ICQ, one of the first chat services, hit the 'web' as it was being called, and Scott suddenly discovered a buying public for the kind of pictures he had to offer. It was too good to be true. He could sit in his home and make more money selling porn than he ever had with his little 'back office' operation.

It pretty much became a routine. He cruised the bars, college hangouts, and strip joints, looking for young girls seeking a thrill and a marijuana high. He took them back to his place for the weekend, keeping them high enough that they didn't notice or care about the cameras, and dumped them back where he found them. Then he would spend a couple of days in the darkroom before scanning the pictures to create the electronic files he could sell.

The formula had worked well, and over the years his business had transformed along with the technology. The girls had become younger and shaving brought the view even closer. The internet, itself, had grown by leaps and bounds, and many speculated one of the driving forces behind faster and bigger machines, as well as the modern internet itself, was actually the porn industry. A well-kept secret the computer and software manufacturers managed to avoid.

His bedroom operation had moved to the garage, then to an abandoned grocery store, and finally exploded into warehouses along the west coast.

He'd managed to take the nest egg he'd saved and turn it into a multi-million dollar business that provided the media for most the porn sites found on the market today. His media sat safe on offshore servers in a tax haven country that really didn't care what or who was in his pictures as long as some sleazy local politician got his cut.

This time when the mob knocked on his door and invited him to give them 25% of his business, he didn't even think twice. He raised prices and forged ahead.

His best scam to date was overcharging credit card holders that had fallen into the trap of becoming members. Sure, it was nice when they were members and paid the ongoing fee for 'Full Access', but it was even better when they canceled, and he could hit them with a one dollar 'Service Charge' once a month. He could be sure they would never complain to their card company because what would the card company think of 'Joe Clean-cut' when he started complaining about a service charge from an internet porn site? With more than two million expired members, it was a nice chunk of change every month.

Arriving at his house in the hills, Scott flicked the garage door opener and looked idly out over L.A., spread out below, before pulling in and closing the door behind him.

Walking through the dark kitchen, he could hear the tapping of a computer keyboard and followed the noise to his bedroom where his two current bedmates lay naked, tangled in the sheets, chatting in one of the 'Teen Cam' sites he owned.

The girls continued to chat, lick, and kiss, seemingly oblivious to his arrival as he walked around the room out of camera range. Dropping his Rolex and billfold on a tray on his dresser, his jacket on a hanger along with his slacks, and the rest of his clothes in the clothes hamper, he headed for the shower.

"Here's your drink, Scott. You want a sandwich? Beth and I are hungry."

Cheryl had been with Scott for two years now. Easy going, attractive and never touching drugs, she co-existed more than lived with him. She slept in his bed and made love to the other women he brought to the house, but she never showed an interest in other men. She was also attuned to the business side and its demands, never complaining about time alone or impromptu business trips that didn't include her. Basically, she was convenient, and Scott never stopped to wonder what she might get from the relationship because worrying about others' needs was not part of Scott's personality. And at 28, she lent a little sanity and maturity to his home life as well as to the other girls, all much younger, that occasionally co-habitated.

"Sure," was all he said as he took the glass and walked under the spray to rinse.

Dried and robed, he regarded the four computer screens that glowed in his bedroom at the foot of his rumpled bed. One tracked stock prices of investments he'd made, along with on-line tracking of credit card movements as people signed up for or purchased things through his internet sites. The other three were for tuning into different sites to see what was happening, how the traffic was, and in general, what people were doing in chat rooms he ran.

In the kitchen Beth and Cheryl were sitting naked on bar stools, talking over sandwiches and coffee as if sitting in a diner at lunch time.

"How goes it, boss?" Beth asked.

Beth had been around for three weeks now and had already overstayed her welcome as far as Scott was concerned, but Cheryl had expressed a continued interest and commented to Scott that 'no one knows how to eat a pie like a pie baker'. So he'd let it go for the time being. He had to admit that they were beautiful, tangled up in each other, in his bed.

"And what are you girls up to for Thanksgiving?" Having his own plans, he wanted to see if anyone would be at the house during his absence.

"What are you doing, Scott? You need company?" Cheryl asked.

"Business. I leave in the morning and back the Monday after Thanksgiving."

"I need to go visit my folks. They keep bugging me about how my 'auditions' are going," ending in a giggle as Beth realized just how hard it would be to explain the results of her auditions.

"I thought I'd go back east and visit my sister and her family. I haven't seen them for a year now," Cheryl added.

Then they sat in silence, eating and listening to some jazz Cheryl had put on. Beth stayed to put the dishes in the dishwasher while Cheryl made the bed.

"Here, that's ten thousand. Give Beth what you want, and you keep the rest for your trip," Scott said, handing Cheryl an envelope full of bills.

"Thanks, babe; you're the best."

And with that, Beth returned, and the three of them crawled between the sheets.


An hour later, Beth and Cheryl were both exhausted and sleeping soundly as Scott slid out of the bed and wandered quietly to his study where he poured himself one last scotch and opened his safe. Pulling out a stack of bills, he counted out fifty, one hundred dollar bills which he slid into a leather document pouch. Setting that aside, he put the extra bills back and lifted a lockbox out of the bottom of the safe.

Extracting a key from his right-hand desk drawer, he opened the box and lifted a stack of plastic-covered ID cards, wrapped in a rubber band, and shuffled through them until he found the one he needed. Next, he lifted out of the box a stainless steel, Smith and Wesson semi-automatic and a pair of suede gloves and set them on his desk. Pulling the clip, he checked to be sure it was loaded before returning the lockbox to its place in the bottom of the safe, closing the heavy door, and giving the combination wheel a spin.

Opening his lower left-hand drawer, he pulled a leather binder out with plastic protector pages on the rings. Opening it on his desk, he leafed through until he found what he was looking for. Yes, working for the mob had its benefits. Sliding the gold detective's badge out of its plastic protector page, he pulled another drawer open to dig out a leather badge holder. Sliding the ID behind the clear plastic window and clipping the badge in place, he closed the desk and locked it before locking everything in a briefcase for his trip.

Walking past the girls as they continued to sleep, he went into a walk-in closet half as big as the bedroom. Lined with tailor-made suits, custom-fitted shoes, and hand-sewn shirts, he walked past all of it and went to another door - a closet within a closet. Unlocking the door, he opened a normal sized closet with several off-the-rack suits, off-the-rack shoes, and ties he'd picked up at Goodwill. Pulling out three suits and two pair of shoes, and then selecting the gaudiest ties he could find, (he particularly liked the purple and green one with a food stain), he carried it all out into the walk-in closet where he literally stuffed them into a duffle bag for travel.

Going back into the closet, he pulled out some off-the-rack Arrow cotton/polyester blend shirts, socks, and BVD's to throw on top. He wanted the rumpled detective look and was sure he'd blend in with the finest of 'NY's finest' by tomorrow evening. Next, he pulled out an old, frayed trench coat that had also come from Goodwill and rolled it up so he could stuff it in with the rest of his wardrobe for the week.

Finally, he pulled out a suede, hip-length coat that he carefully hung in a ragged-looking suit bag to carry on the plane with his briefcase and laptop.

Back in his study, he picked up the phone and made a call. A gruff voice picked up on the second ring and answered, "Bruno." He had no doubt that the man who answered was not named Bruno, and neither were any of the other voices that picked up when he had used the number.

"This is Mario; I need to talk to Sam." With his response, the phone clicked in his ear, and he hung up to wait. He knew organized crime had access to a myriad of flights; most were corporate jets, working for the expanding, legitimate, business side of the underworld. Less than a minute later, the phone rang. Without introductions or salutations, he heard the caller say, "Sam, here."

"I need a flight to New York sometime this morning. I'm carrying."

"Go to the street entrance for Landau Charters and tell them you're Mr. Phillips for the New York flight. Take a seat at the back of the plane, and the suits, up front, won't pay any attention to you. Do you need a return?"

"I'll call you."

"Flight leaves at 7:00 am. Have a nice trip."

With that, the phone clicked again in his ear, and he was finished. Yes, working with the mob had its perks.

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